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‘I Feel Like A Political Orphan’: Talking Sex Work & Cannabis With Mistress Matisse

Posted in Creative Commons, Journalism, and Sex & Relationships

“The idea that we’re protecting people by keeping sex work illegal is ridiculous,” Mistress Matisse told me. “We’re protecting no one like that.”

I’ve been a fan of Mistress Matisse for years, since I discovered her through her column “Control Tower,” which ran until 2011 in “The Stranger,” the same publication as Dan Savage’s sex advice column “Savage Love.” Along with a calendar of sex-positive events in Seattle (which I’d fantasize about attending from miles away Texas), “Control Tower” offered sensible advice on BDSM, kink, and nontraditional relationships.

Wearing a white dress, Mistress Matisse leans against a wall with her hands on her hips. (Craig Morey)

Matisse is a pro-domme, an advocate for sex workers’ rights and, most recently, a cannabis entrepreneur. Her unique water-based cannabis lube, Velvet Swing, is available for sale in Washington state. While Matisse reached out to me to promote Velvet Swing, I knew there’s a lot more to her than just giving people better orgasms by getting their genitals buzzed.

I most wanted to hear her thoughts on our bizarre political moment.

Convincing politicians that ‘you’re fine’: The uphill battle to deregulate sex work

After experiencing legal brothels in Nevada, Matisse is an advocate for total deregulation of sex work, rather than simply “legalization.” Legalization means more government interference in the bodily autonomy of sex workers. While she admits the brothels in Nevada are “a safe and legal place to do prostitution,” almost every aspect of the women’s lives is controlled in oppressive ways, including a ban on their ability to freely travel.

“If a sex act would not be illegal if money didn’t change hands, then just adding money to it should not transform it into a crime,” she explained.

But she admits it can be hard to see how we get to deregulation from here.

“I think that our current president — not only is he anti-human rights, he seems really bent on rolling back everything Obama did that was good,” she said. “In the course of that, naturally he’s attacking rights for trans people, job protections for the LGBTQIA community, which is very disheartening to see.”

While the GOP is hostile to queer folks, and even access to birth control, deregulation of sex work is unpopular on both sides of the aisle. As I’ve covered before, even the Green Party and other “alternatives” have a poor track record on sex workers’ rights.

“I feel like a political orphan,” Matisse told me. “You wind up voting for Democrats because they’re the least bad option but they are often just as bad about sex work, if not worse, than the Republicans.”

Based on her experience, Republicans, especially those with Libertarian leanings, can be swayed toward legalization of sex work more readily than many Democrats. She continued:

Trying to convince a liberal Democrat that you’re fine, and you like your life and you don’t need saving, is a very difficult thing to do. They just are not inclined to accept that at all. So it’s troublesome, it’s very troublesome.

She also said the stigma around sex, and by extension sex work, had worsened since the advent of the AIDS crisis. “Activists who are older than me often tell me that it was actually a little easier — like the stigma was more pronounced, but it was easier to get politicians on your side in the 60s and the 70s.”

Still, Mistress Matisse finds hope in the growing solidarity among sex workers worldwide.

“There’s so many people working in this industry who are also working to make it better,” she said. “I see small gains all the time, and I can’t help but think we will continue going the right direction.”

Mistress Matisse recommended SWOP Behind Bars, a project of the Sex Workers Outreach Project, which offers support to current and formerly incarcerated sex workers. Check out their work and donate if you can.

Seeking the ‘Starbucks’ sex experience with Velvet Swing

Velvet Swing is a cannabis infused sexual lubricant that is water soluble and safe to use with condoms and sex toys. (Velvet Swing)
Matisse first encountered cannabis in college, but she wasn’t much of a smoker. When cannabis was legalized in the state, she told me she started browsing the dispensaries and marveling at the wide array of products, including edibles and topicals. Around that time, friends started experimenting with cannabis-based lubes.

“I had some experiences that were ‘meh,'” she recalled, “and I had some experiences that were amazing.”

Along with some cannabis experts, she set out to figure out what worked and reproduce it.

“I want that Starbucks experience; I want to have kind of the same orgasm each time.”

THC and other cannabinoids normally bind to fat molecules, which is why the classic pot brownies use cannabis-infused butter. In addition to being unpredictable, oil-based cannabis lubes like the ones Matisse’s friends used to make are a “sticky mess” and can leave an ugly orange stain on bedsheets. And, like all oil-based products, they’re incompatible with condoms and other safer sex supplies.

Scientists working with her friend Howard Lee, CEO of Tarukino, developed a water-based emulsion of cannabis that later became the base for Velvet Swing. That means Velvet Swing is safe with condoms and sex toys, like other water-based lubes, and is a similar consistency to other sex lubes. It’s also free of parabens, glycerin, and propylene glycol, which are harmful and irritating chemicals found in many inferior lubes. Matisse told me Velvet Swing has a lotion-like texture, a pearly white color, and smells a little bit floral.

In general, cannabis lube applied to the genitals isn’t going to make you “feel high.” However, the THC in Velvet Swing promotes increased blood flow, which can increase sensitivity and natural lubrication. The CBD, in turn, can relax muscle tension, which Matisse told me can also promote stronger orgasms.

Tarukino also markets its technology as a bottled water called Pearl2O, which I’ve heard good things about from my Seattle friends. While Matisse isn’t directly involved in that company, she told me she is a fan of the product.

“People cook with it, they bake with it, they make these crazy cocktails out of it. I just drink it straight because I think it’s a wonderful high.”


A bud of the “Oregon Blues” cannabis strain. December 11, 2014. (Flickr / Matt Dillon, CC NC ND)

I recently visited Reno, where I got a chance to sample the wonders of legal recreational cannabis for the first time. Stepping into my first dispensary, and purchasing cannabis like I would any other product, was more than a little mind-blowing. I enjoyed their wares in several forms, and saw so many others, including even cannabis sunscreen. But nobody in Nevada, it seems, is making cannabis lube yet.

Someday, I’ll get to sample Velvet Swing in person (hopefully with my partner along to enjoy it with me). Until then, I’ll just have to imagine what the Velvet Swing experience is like, just like I used to imagine the fun I’d be having in the Seattle kink scene back when Mistress Matisse wrote “Control Tower.”

Thanks, Mistress Matisse, for taking the time to talk; it was a pleasure and an honor to finally make your acquaintance.


‘I Feel Like A Political Orphan’: Talking Sex Work & Cannabis With Mistress Matisse by Kit O’Connell is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
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